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Agencies to develop subsurface data framework



Project Iceberg to move on to demonstrator projects after first phase proves value of providing more consistent data on underground features in cities

A trio of public agencies have said they are ready to continue with a project to build a data exchange framework for subsurface features of the urban areas around the UK.

Future Cities Catapult (FCC), Ordnance Survey and the British Geological Survey are aiming to run a series of demonstrators as part of Project Iceberg, after the first phase proved the need for the data framework.

It is aimed at providing planners, utility companies and developers with a more complete picture of cities and towns, and to support their use of new digital technology.

Work on the project began early last year, initially focused on demonstrating the value of managing data on sub-surface features in a more coordinated manner. FCC said it demonstrated the need for a public data exchange framework that could be integrated into existing city data systems. It would not be a single map of the subsurface, but a consistent framework into which data is supplied and made available for analysis by a wide range of users.

The three organisations are now planning to take the project to the next steps.

Further definition

Stefan Webb, head of projects at FCC, told UKAuthority: “The data exchange framework is a concept that we will need to be further defined, through engagement with government, regulators and practitioners but also through practical demonstrator projects, most likely with city authorities through development projects. 

“Taking an agile an approach would mean that the framework would come into existence gradually.”

He said they aim to link the effort with other initiatives for the integration of data, notably the National Infrastructure Commission’s ‘digital twin’ concept, which if carried through would make it possible to share data about infrastructure assets.

Webb said data could support the use of several technologies, including augmented reality, 3D modelling, the application of machine learning to subsurface data, and building information modelling (BIM). The principles of the latter are now being extended to include the subsurface through an InnovateUK funded project, BIM for the subsurface.

“The new data exchange framework will make the data necessary to drive these innovations, more accessible and usable, thereby helping address city challenges,” Webb said.

Building models

He added that FCC has begun to assess the financial benefits of the framework, but needs to build more detailed models based on practical demonstrations.

“In parallel there is the potential to build on the existing standards, regulatory frameworks and legislative requirements to mandate the use of the data framework,” he said.

“We are already seeing some success stories where data integration above and below ground is delivering real benefits, for example in Manchester through their Open Data Infrastructure Map, and in Glasgow where ground models and site investigation data is being shared across public-private sectors to minimise duplication in data collection.”

Among the long term aims of the project is to increase the viability of land for development and de-risk future investment through better use of subsurface information.

Untangling the web

Rollo Home, content strategy lead at Ordnance Survey, said: “The absence of standards governing the collection of underground data means decision-makers working on cross-sector domain projects face a challenge to untangle the web of data that is available.

“Not knowing what’s buried and where it’s buried causes significant disruption, wasted time, delays in street works, possible damage to other utilities and unnecessary extra repair and compensation costs. This lack of knowledge also presents very real health and safety risks to utility employees and the public.

“It’s in the interests of Great Britain to resolve this by getting a detailed and accurate picture of the subsurface space and to combine it with the above ground data model for shared operational and innovation activities.”

The National Infrastructure Commission report published in December, Data for the Public Good, referenced Project Iceberg as an example of leading practice in the field.

Image from Future Cities Catapult (amended)


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